Bopara credits Gooch for Test success
Chris Gayle is not enthralled by Test cricket, but for Ravi Bopara it holds a special place - and that's coming from a player who can be assured of making a fortune in the Twenty20 game. After listening to the depressing overtures from the West Indies captain, Bopara's youthful exuberance and excitement at his continued success was a timely reminder of the pride the five-day game can bring.
Sadly the crowd was as meagre as expected - the official figure of 5000 seemed very generous - and there are clearly issues the Test game needs to address to secure its future. That is a job for the administrators, but the players must play their part by performing with passion. The attitude of a young cricketer like Bopara can show the way.
"Playing in the IPL was amazing, it was a great experience and I'd love to do it again," Bopara said. "Then again, Test cricket is still the pinnacle of the game. The feeling I got at Lord's reaching a hundred and the feeling I got here, there's no better feeling. I don't know if that's because I had a bad run in Sri Lanka but as a young boy I've always wanted to play Test cricket. My heroes have done extraordinary stuff and you want to do what your heroes have done. All forms of the game are very important to me."
That poor run Bopara alluded to has made his re-emergence as a Test player even more impressive. When he was left sprawling in the Galle dirt in late December 2007, having been embarrassingly run out from slip by Mahela Jaywardene, it completed a pair for the match and three consecutive ducks. Bopara looked anything but a Test cricketer.
As he returned to the dressing room in Galle, he vowed to become better for the experience. "Sri Lanka was possibly the toughest part of my career. Not at one point did I feel uncomfortable, it just seemed to happen so quickly," he said. "I just kept getting out and kept finding ways to get out as well. But not for one moment did I think I wasn't going to play Test cricket again or it's the end for me. I knew I was going to come back and knew I was going to be a better player. From the moment I got run out in that last Test I went back into the changing rooms and said I knew what I had to do and I'm going to come back stronger."
It took a little while - he only returned to the Test squad at the end of last summer, and didn't make the team again until Barbados in February - but he's now back for the foreseeable future. His third hundred in three consecutive innings (having been dropped despite his Bridgetown success) makes him the fifth in a select group of England batsman to achieve the feat. Herbert Sutcliffe, Denis Compton, Geoff Boycott and, most significantly for Bopara, his hero and mentor Graham Gooch - who made 333, 123 and 116 against India in 1990 - were the previous four.
Bopara finds it difficult to talk about the huge influence Gooch has had on his career and didn't want his name to be so closely associated with someone who he admires so greatly.
"I wouldn't put my name in the same sentence as Graham," he said. "It's hard for me to talk about cricket when it comes to Graham Gooch because I've got a lot of respect for the way he did things and what he did with me. He was a fantastic player, and he's done a lot for me and a lot for England."
Bopara said Gooch, who bagged a pair on his Test debut against Australia in 1975, rang him after his Sri Lanka experience to say he would come good. "He got on the phone and said 'It's okay, I got a pair in my first Test. It will make you a better player. You will come out stronger because you've got this gift and make the most of it.' It's nice coming from Graham, someone who's done so much, a legendary batsman. It gives you confidence and belief."
His batting advice to Bopara has always remained the same and very simple: play straight. "I know it sounds basic but it's nice to have a reminder, especially coming from Graham. It's quite reassuring," he added. Gooch would have been proud of the three straight hits off Sulieman Benn that took him close to three figures.
They are sentiments echoed by his Essex team-mate, and fellow century-maker, Alastair Cook. "I quite like a whip from off stump to the leg side as well," he said with a wry smile. "Goochie has been amazing for me and Ravi. The amount of hard work he's put in. He would be throwing to me at 8.30 in the morning when I was 18 and to do that is something special."
Their joint success rekindled a partnership that began in the Essex Under-14 side and first caught the headlines in 2005 when they added 270 against the touring Australians. It was a stand that marked them out as future England stars and in less than two months they will have the chance to face up to Australia again.
Although Cook's innings will be overshadowed by the extra flair, and the come-of-age story, from Bopara, his was equally vital from a team and personal point of view. Although he managed to break his 14-month century drought with a second-innings ton in Barbados he hadn't made a first-innings hundred since facing West Indies, at Lord's, in May 2007. It's first-innings runs that shape Test matches and it's a habit England need to get into ahead of the greater challenges down the road.
It was also fascinating to watch two contrasting batsman build long innings, which is one of the many charms that isn't available in Twenty20. Cook built steadily, whereas Bopara went through phases from a swift start, to a stall in the thirties, then a dash to his hundred. Only one of these batsmen would flourish in Twenty20, but both can prosper in Tests and it would be a great shame if that variety was ever lost.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo